High Tide (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mother meets estranged daughter.

Lillie (Judy Davis) is living on the very edge of show business life working as a backup singer to an Elvis impersonator (Frankie J. Holden). Her lackluster behavior gets her fired and she finds herself without money or shelter. She moves to a trailer home park and begins drinking heavily and it is here while in a drunken state in the public bathroom that she meets Ally (Claudia Karvan). Ally is a 13-year-old girl living with Bet (Jan Adele) who is the mother of Ally’s father who died when she was just an infant. At first Lillie doesn’t know that Ally is actually her daughter, which she gave up at birth. When Bet realizes that Lillie is in the area she warns her not to go near Ally, but Ally and Lillie manage to find ways to get together anyways and form a rapport, but without Ally knowing the deep, dark secret between them. Once she does find out the two must learn to fight through the awkward and emotional state that the tumultuous new awareness creates.

Originally the script called for Lille’s character to be a man meeting up with his lost teen daughter that he had abandoned years earlier, but director Gillian Armstrong felt this had been done before and at her husband’s suggestion changed the lead into a female. In many ways this was a better idea as women are better able to reveal their emotions creating some very strong, heartfelt scenes between them that ultimately makes for a very powerful film.

Many reviewers have expounded on Davis’ performance and she does give a strong one particularly the way her character is put through some very demeaning situations, but still managing to come through them holding her head high and keeping the viewer empathetic to her. Karvan though is quite good too with a beautiful photogenic face that can display an array of emotions with very little effort and who’s likable enough that you’re able to bond with her immediately.

The story progresses casually and at first you have no idea what links these three women as the film intercuts between them in separate situations with no idea where the connecting point is, which to some extent doesn’t grab the viewer in. I did though like the way it captured the nightclub atmosphere showing how for many it temporarily opened the door for their lost and fleeting dreams by having Bet get onstage and sing to a captive audience at a talent contest during the evening only to cutaway showing her back on her drudgery job of driving an ice cream truck the following day.

Once the secret becomes clear the story gets more interesting with the dialogue between the mother and daughter quite compelling. There is however, a long lull during the second act where Lilly intentionally stays away from Ally, which I found frustrating. The main interest of the film is seeing the two working things out together and getting through the guilt and bitterness of the past and at times there’s not enough of that.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act features Ally deciding to go out on the road with Lillie, but to me this thing seemed too precipitous since the two had only begun to get to know each other, why would a young teen, even if she was unhappy in her current situation, want to start living with someone she really didn’t know if she could get along with? This situation also opens up a whole variety of new tangents: like how are the two going to survive with Lillie’s limited job skills and where would they live? I felt this situation should’ve been introduced in the second act and explored much more. Personally I don’t think things would’ve worked out and at the very least brought on, despite their best intentions, a lot of stress and disagreement before it might’ve gotten better. This is something the viewer needed to see though there’s still plenty of nice rewards nonetheless.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 30, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Studio: Filmpac Distribution

Available: VHS

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